On the big island of Hawaii, a short, safe route from Hilo on the east side of the island, across the mountains to Kona on the west end, has been long overdue. Before federal funding for reconstruction of the mountainous road was granted, tourists were forced to take the much longer coastal highway.

The Saddle Road project, as it's called, involves reconstructing an old, rundown two-lane road built by the U.S. Army in the '40s. To accomplish the massive task, the Federal Highway Administration in cooperation with the Hawaii Dept. of Transportation, awarded contracts to three local Hawaiian businesses — Goodfellow Bros., responsible for the grading work; James W. Glover Ltd., which produces the asphalt; and Grace Pacific Corp., the company that's transporting the hot-mix asphalt from the plant and laying it down.

Lorne Fleming, director of the equipment division at Grace Pacific, says his company is getting ready to launch the next phase of the project in the spring. “Temperatures on the mountain regularly drop below freezing, so we won't be able to start paving until around April. It's a huge undertaking to build a road across the top of the island over lava fields. Just getting the material up the steep hills presents logistics issues in itself.

“We looked at a lot of options equipment-wise before deciding what would work best for us, given the job site and the working conditions,” Fleming notes. “Because it's a federal job, there are speed limits that are set very low. Also, the lengths of the trips vary. We needed to find a truck that would allow us to get as much material as we could in each vehicle, get it to the site, dump it, and get the truck back to the plant as cost-efficiently as possible”

Fleming says that for the relatively short distances his trucks would be traveling, Superdump trucks from Strong Industries of Houston, TX, “are by far and away the lowest cost producer for us. We're able to haul 25 tons of hot-mix asphalt per trip with them.”

The seven-axle, straight dump truck is rated at 80,000 lbs. GVW; has a 20,000-lb.-capacity, set-forward steer axle; three 8,000-lb. steerable pushers; and 46,000-lb.-capacity tandem drives. What enables the high payload capacity of the truck is the Strong Arm trailing axle, which is a liftable axle rated up to a capacity of 13,000 lbs. The Superdump truck also features an elliptical floor and tapered conical-shaped sidewalls that allow Grace Pacific to smoothly and efficiently discharge material from the truck's bed into a paver.

Grace Pacific has 16 Superdumps in its fleet. Three of them are '08 models spec'd with Cummins ISX engines with large horsepower ratings and Eaton Roadranger's 18-spd. Fuller transmissions with the auto-shift feature.

“We're getting good mileage and service out of the trucks and our drivers love them, especially the autoshift clutch setup. In fact, we just replaced a low-bed truck in our fleet and put the same transmission in it,” Fleming reports.

Grace Pacific performs all its own maintenance in-house. The Superdump trucks comprise about one-half of the fleet. The rest is made up of truck and transfer units, some straight tandem trucks, lowbeds that are used to haul liquid asphalt, trucks that haul specialty trailers, a flatbed for hauling hot asphalt tanks, and an end-dump for specialty work.

Fleming explains that as the Grace Pacific fleet ages, his goal is to standardize specs for new equipment, including trucks, engines, transmissions, differentials and tires. The benefits will come from consolidated inventories and simplified maintenance. “In Hawaii,” he says, “because we're 2,500 mi. from anywhere, inventory and transportation costs become a real concern.”

Grace Pacific, which just celebrated its 75th anniversary, is the largest asphalt paving contractor in Hawaii, with seven asphalt plants on five islands.